This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Part 1 can be found here.
After having tasty home-cooked dosa-chutney for breakfast, we set out for what was to be our first full day in New York City. We took the New Jersey Transit train (it had a double deck!) to Pennsylvania Station. Hrishikesh had flown in all the way from the West Coast (Seattle) for this trip. He had landed early in the morning and had already checked in to our hotel, by the time we arrived.
Hotel Belnord is located on West 87th Street. The nearest subway station (86th Street – Seventh Avenue Line) is just a 5-minute walk away and serves the 1 train. The nearest Bank of America ATM is just around the corner as is the nearest Starbucks store. Also, the nearest 7-Eleven store is a 15-minute walk away.
The hotel was comfortable and while it wasn’t especially pretty, it had quite well appointed rooms. Also, the area around the hotel was peaceful. It had a no-nonsense aura around it and was exactly how we wanted it to be.
We had lunch at a fancy South Indian (again!) restaurant – by the way, there was Chicken dosa on the menu as well – and then took the 2 train to Fulton St. which is the station nearest to the One World Trade Centre (WTC) and 9/11 Memorial.
It was cloudy, cold and drizzling, meaning the One WTC’s top was blocked from view by thick fog. Duh!
We then went to see the famous Charging Bull at Broadway. Rubbing its balls is said to bring good luck. Hmm, be that as it may.
As is clearly evident, people are more interested in taking pictures at the rear of the bull. Crazy world!
Dinner was a simple affair. We went to a restaurant called Indian Tanpura near our hotel, came back, and immediately dozed off.
For what it’s worth, here’s a pic from the restaurant:
Serious sightseeing started from Day 3. We went to Starbucks for free Wi-Fi but ended up grabbing a coffee each. We purchased a New York City Explorer Pass online for $67 (Rs. 4,700/-) each, which we felt was a smart thing to do because we ended up saving 20% on the gate price. That pass would take us to Rockefeller, 9/11 Tribute Centre and The Met.
Now, there’s this general dilemma: There are two major ways to experience breathtaking views of New York City – Empire State Building and Rockefeller Centre. A quick online search told me that the view from the top of the Rockefeller Centre was superior to that from the top of the Empire State Building. Alrighty then!
First stop: Rockefeller Center (We lucked out on the weather!)
Just look at that!
We spent a good couple of hours admiring the view, had lunch at Subway and donuts at Dunkin’.
Let me take a moment to talk about the kind of weather that we had to endure during our stay.
It does look sunny in the pictures, but New York was freezing. Temperatures were often below zero and the winds were very cold. It had snowed heavily the night before I arrived. It was so chilly that even using our phones was difficult, since that required us to remove a glove. We used to take turns to use Google Maps, and surviving an hour without gloves or a beanie was impossible.
Layer over layer of clothing was required – thermal inner, a shirt, a sweater, a jacket, a beanie, a scarf, socks, gloves – everything together. I now know the meaning of the phrase, to brave the cold.
Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
We then stepped out and began walking. We weren’t walking to go somewhere; we were just walking. After 10 minutes or so, we stumbled upon this place:
Next stop: Times Square
This was always on our list, but we did not expect to stumble upon it in this fashion. Billboards everywhere! Stores, offices, theaters, music, lights, plays, street artists, dancers – the place had everything! The square has so much light of its own that it’s almost impossible to tell if its day time or night time without looking up at the sky. It’s almost magical! It’s beautiful with a capital B. Every upscale store, hotel, and Café can be found here – all you need to do is move your neck.
But it was also extremely cold! So we went inside a store, just for the warmth. I got a really good deal on T-shirts and Shirts, grabbed a few souvenirs, and some street art. Nobody returns quickly from Times Square. We roamed, roamed and roamed. Then had dinner, and returned to the hotel.
Next day was going to be Hrishikesh’s birthday. Wishes had started pouring in from the evening itself (as it was already past midnight in India).
Hrishikesh’s birthday; Sightseeing
Hrishikesh (obviously) paid for the Starbucks and also for the Uber ride. Since The Met is on the other side of the Central park (Upper East Side), taking a train wasn’t an option since the 1 train serves only those stations which are to the West of Central Park. So we booked an Uber. A thing to note here is that no app-based cab service in the US lets you pay by cash. You have to compulsorily link your Credit card / Debit card / PayPal to your Uber / Lyft Account. Metered cab drivers do accept cash, but an Uber or a Lyft is much more comfortable for a variety of reasons. USA follows the Right Hand Traffic (RHT) system i.e. you drive on the right hand side of the road. This also means that you have Left Hand Drive cars. Living in India, our brain is configured to look at the left of the windshield of an approaching vehicle to spot the driver. In the US, you often see nobody there. It is at this point that you realise you are far away from home…
I also purchased a Lycamobile SIM card for $29 (Rs. 1,950/-). Everything seems like a good deal till you convert it into INR. It was still a good deal when compared to the AT&T or T-Mobile plans. In any case, New York City ruins our understanding of what things should cost. So this had to be a good deal.
Also, it is not a good idea to use your Indian operator’s roaming-enabled SIM in the US because the plans are generally prohibitively expensive. My Lycamobile plan offered unlimited local calls, calls to India and messages. Data was also unlimited and the first gigabyte was at 4G speed. Also, finding free WiFi hotspots in the US is not difficult so you seldom need to use data on your phone.
While on the way, Hrishikesh said ‘thank you’ to many more of his well-wishers while I spoke to my mom-dad and also video-called my uncle, aunt and cousins.
First stop: Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
12 minutes later, we found ourselves in front of the museum’s majestic entrance. The grandeur of its architecture is almost intimidating.
While I was still on call, a guy pretending to be a poor artist tricked Hrishikesh into buying a CD full of crappy songs (though we never got a chance to listen to the CD – I dont even know where it is right now – the fact that Hrishikesh was deceived in the first hours of his birthday morning is enough reason to write off the alleged artist’s work as crappy).
We entered and found ourselves in the Great Hall. The museum contains over two million works and is among the most visited art museums in the world. It is divided into various sections such as Asian art, Egyptian art, European art, Medieval art, Modern art, among others. Not wanting to miss out on the key attractions, I being the wiser one among the two of us (and also in general), searched on Google for ‘must see attractions at The Met’. I quickly made a list, and off we went!
Here are a few masterpieces from The Met:
Second stop: Grand Central Terminal